Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Donovan Cook interview, part 5

Read Part 4 here

Did the two dogs ever had names?
[laugh] Somebody asked me about that recently.

Mark Kennedy, Ash Brannon, Chris Ure...I called them up and said "Let's get together and make a cartoon," because I was working at Disney Features, and I think Mark Kennedy was there, and Chris was at Warner Bros., because they had a shorts division at the time, and Ash I think was at Warner Bros. too. So were were all working and I was like "Let's not disappear into Studio Whatever, let's keep making stuff, you know?" So I brought everyone up to The Alamo in Valencia, and at that dinner there were a bunch of ideas that came out. I still credit Ash Brannon for saying "Hey what about two really stupid dogs?" I liked that, and I think I wrote down three or four things out of that meeting, but it was the stupid dogs one that I thought was the funniest, and I loved dogs, I always had dogs when I was a kid.

Not long after that I happened to see a stray dog in the apartment complex where I lived. There was something about this one dog and scared and whatever, but he looked like he was living in a fantastic, adventurous life. That became a real spark of inspiration for me. They wern't humans, they [wern't humans drawn as dogs], they were actually dogs that lived in the human world as dogs. They were strays, they wern't pets. It was important to me that they wern't pets, that was a big part of the concept. I figured, a dog that wasn't a pet wouldn't name itself, it would just be "I am a dog."

Their names were "Big Dog" and "Little Dog", and that's why they never really had proper names. But there were a couple of episodes where, especially the Big Dog who had a couple of different names that were put upon him in an episode. There was an episode were he was called "Jonathan" once, by a hamster who was played by Maureen McCormick, who was Marsha Brady in "Brady Bunch" as you recall. There was a dramatic love scene between the Hamster and the Big Dog, and she called him Jonathan. That was a second season story, and in second season I kinda loosened up the reigns and things got a little wackier.

That's why they didn't have proper names. I'm surprised the studio let me do that. That's something I can credit to Fred [Seibert]. Fred was very experimental. He wasn't afraid of making a cartoon that, I dunno, had a flaw. I think he figured "Well, if that doesn't work, we'll make another one." That's a risk that nobody would let you make now. Like, let's have two characters that don't actually have names. I'd hate to think that in hindsight that it was a mistake, but, I dunno, maybe it made it harder to market them. [laugh]

Did you direct all the voice sessions on the show?
Yeah, I did. That came CalArts, you basically learned, it's been many years since I've been there but I think it's still the same, but you basically learned to make your cartoon, it's very collaborative and you had all the classmates to help you, but you basically learned to make cartoons, really the old way. Which is kind of a small group of people, and at school it's mainly you and you do basically most of the work, but at school you had all these people supporting you and so that, to me, if I was going to be the guy who run the show, I need to direct the voices and at Hanna-Barbera at the time, they had a voice director, Gordon Hunt, who ran the casting department and was the main casting director and voice director. They had Kris Zimmerman, who was basically his protege, and who was about to take over the department. But I thought "why would I have someone else direct the voices when they wern't involved in creating the storyboards and writing the materials?" and John [Kricfalusi] of course directed his voices at Spumco and at the time I spent on features, on Mermaid and such, the directors directed the voices, so to me it was a very foreign idea that the person running the show wouldn't direct the voice. So while I didn't know what I was doing I remember John Musker, an amazing talented director and super nice guy, and also generous with his time when I interned and the year I spent there, so when it came time for me to direct the voices I asked if he would have lunch with me to spend an hour going over the approaches on how he would direct the voices, there's a little bit of, that I learned alot from John K., and alot from picking through John Musker's brain about, we just did it. I think there's some really talented voice directors, I had worked with them, and there's nothing wrong with it, but I think there's a false idea that animators, cartoonists, directors, don't really know how to talk to actors, and therefore you need voice directors to bridge the gap of language or whatever, but I think that's completely false. I think any directors, be it live-action or animation or whatever, your job is to communicate your ideas to the people you're collaborating with, and there's certainly there's ways to talk to actors and to gets actors motivitated, get them to visualize things, but there's no reason why an animation director can't do that. So I directed all the voices for that. Larry and I traded off directing voices for Secret Squirrel.

Some of the writers, board artists, including Mark Saraceni, sometimes went to the voice session with us. We never put the actors in a position where there were multiple direction, but we were there as a group.

How much work was done in pre-production before everything went overseas?
That was a very standard process, for television. Especially at Hanna-Barbera. Basically you would write outlines, draw the storyboards. At times, during outline, we would design something, like a character that we knew as new. But more often than not there were no designs done before the storyboard artists boarded it. They would make up a new design that worked for the storyboards, and once the storyboard was done, like if there was a new character, and there would always be a new location, we would design a show from the storyboards. At times, the board artists had a great design sensibility so in that first season it would have been Craig or Mike. Take, for example, that character Cubby. He first appeared at the Drive - In. Chris Ure drew him first in the pitch board, then it was Conrad [Vernon] who did the production design. So Craig basically did the final designs based on what was drawn in the storyboards. But we had times when the character designs in the storyboard that looked really, really different than what we wound up designing because we didn't really like the designs in the board, but we didn't have time to go back and revise the storyboards so I had a stamp that said "Character Off-Model. Follow the Model," and I sometimes had "Character Off-Model, Follow the Board," if the drawings were so funny I didn't want to mess up the drawings by putting them back on-model. So we would board it, then we would design it, and then we would record it after the board was done, and then after we recorded it we would create the story reels. We would lock the timing in the story reels and we would do animation sheets for the animation timing, and we would send it overseas from there. Months later it'd come back in color and we would frantically call for retakes, and then it was on TV. That's the process in television. It's a little different now with all the digital stuff, but it's still pretty much the same. We didn't invent anything how we did it in pre-production, although back then not too many places were doing story reels [animatics], we were doing it at Spumco, but Hanna-Barbera didn't and we invented that [at the studio], but now it's pretty standard practice, but back then nobody was doing it.

Part 6 coming soon

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